Choosing a Mid-Powered Optic For Competitive Shooting

Choosing a Mid-Powered Optic For Competitive Shooting
As the competitive shooting sports grow, so do the style and complexity of matches competitors will face.  In the past, and for the shorter range matches, the competitor was faced with the problem of needing a true 1x scope that also allows them to shoot targets out to four or five hundred yards.  With the growth of more matches that make the shooter engage targets at mid to long range, with minimal targets under twenty or thirty yards, new optics are being considered as top choices for these matches.   I recently had the chance to use a Nightforce NXS 2.5x10x32 and the versatility this optic offers is certainly advantage. 
 Nightforce NXS 2.5-10x32
I mounted this scope on my Lancer Heavy Metal .308 and took it out to do some practice for next season.  The scope was exceptionally clear and, although slightly larger than the 1-6x scopes on the market, I felt the extra magnification more than justified a larger optic.  I chose the MIL-R reticule since I am familiar with using mils, and find it the best reticle to use when the possibility of using the scope with different calibers is probable. I also chose the 32mm scope over the 42mm because of the fixed parallax it offers.  While shooting an adjustable parallax scope in sniper or long range type matches will offer an advantage, for DMR, Two Gun, and extended range 3 gun matches, this can be more of a hindrance since ensuring parallax is always adjusted out can take too much time while on the clock.  Throughout the testing which involved shooting targets from 10-600 yards I did not feel this was a disadvantage in any way.
The first drill I performed was shooting close targets inside of twenty yards and then transitioning to targets from 100- 250 yards.  I did this drill with the scope on 2.5 then switching it to a higher magnification for the further targets.  Times were comparable to using a 1-4 or 1-6 scope although the true 1x scopes did prove slightly faster on targets under 15 yards.  I then performed the same drill using roll to side 45 degree offsets sights and started with the scope turned up to the desired magnification for the longer targets to start.  After a few warm ups to get used to the offset irons I ran the drill again and was very impressed.  Times were much better, not only did I save time not having to turn the scope to a higher magnification but the 2.5-10 NXS allowed me more magnification for smaller targets at distance. 
The next drill I performed was where this scope really shined.  I placed a number of targets across the range from 100-600 yards.  I then shot all the targets from a few different positions as fast as possible, and then again using the fewest number of shots possible not worrying about the time.  In both scenarios it was no surprise that the NXS 2.5x10 allowed me to shoot the stages a considerable amount of time quicker than the 1-6 I was using on the other identical rifle.  The extra magnification made it much easier to engage the longer range targets and the MIL-R reticle made it easy to make quick adjustments for targets at different ranges.  Although some may think the extra magnification which does lesson the field of view could be a disadvantage in finding targets on the range I did not see this displayed on the timer.  The other big advantaged to the 10x scope was being able to see misses at extended ranges and being able to quickly make adjustments.  Out past 300 yards or so the 6x scope made it difficult to see impact when missing targets due to wind, but with the 10x NXS this was not a problem. I would have loved to have the 2.5x10 on my rifle for the Hyperfire rifle match last year, as the extra magnification would have been a big help, and the tough weather conditions made it difficult to see impact on misses.
The last two drills I performed were a standard box test and then targets at extended yardages while dialing up and down instead of using the reticle.  For the box test I shot the box drill two times and it was no surprise that the Nightforce performed excellent.
All four corners of the box were five shot groups at 100 yards under 1”.  This drill was shot under less than ideal conditions as the 30 degree windy weather did not help my groups, and am sure they could have easily been much smaller.  I then shot targets from 200-600 yards using my known dope and dialing up and down, shooting each target a few times.  (never shooting the same distant target more than once at a time)  I had no problems hitting 8” plates at all the distances and was even able to easily hit clay birds at 600 yards.  I then returned the scope to zero and shot a group at 200 yards. (my initial zero)  This group was within a 1/4” of the spot as the initial group, which very easily could have been shooter error.
As the popularity of 3 gun matches that make the shooter shoot the rifle like it was intended (from 50 yards and out), and the rise of DMR matches grow, I feel the mid level variable scopes like the NXS 2.5x10x32 will become more and more popular.  I expect to have the scope mounted on my rifle for a number of matches next year and am anxious to take advantage of what it has to offer.
- Dean Deturk
Dean is a sponsored 3 gun shooter who is also an active long range and DMR competitor.  He has been competing in national level matches for over 7 years and has numerous top 3 divisional finishes including: FNH, Blue Ridge, and The Hiperfire Rifle Challenge, and 3 Gun Nation. Dean also is an competitor within his homestate of Pennsylvania and has laid claim to the PA state rifle Championship numerous times.  While not out on the range or competing, he can be found teaching high school social studies and also working in a custom gun shop.  Dean is sponsored by a number of top companies within the industry including: Lancer Systems, Beck Defense, Trop Gun, Tru-Spec, MGM Targets, Nordic Components, Hodgdon Powders, Vigilance Tactical, Geissele, Patriot Cases and Wildear.  

See the light! - Light Transmission


Light Transmission

By Tom Bulloch

 See the light!

One of the least understood, most abused topics in riflescopes is “light transmission.”  You will find the truth quite…enlightening.

It was a very large and very hungry lion, not forty meters from where we sat and sweated.  I could hear meat tearing and bones breaking, and an occasional low growl as it dismantled a hapless native cow.  I could see nothing, not even the outline of the acacia tree from which the bait hung.  The sun had set over an hour ago, and it would be several more hours before the moon rose.  Sitting in the African darkness as a lion gorges itself a few paces away makes one wonder about the sanity of big game hunting.

"Get ready," Leon, my P.H., whispered.  I aimed the .375 toward the sound of the carnage and eased off the safety.  Our only source of light was a questionable flashlight, powered by three tired third-world batteries.  

Leon switched on the weak light, and I found a tawny shape with the scope's crosshairs.  Which end was which?  Where do I shoot?  Then the beast sensed the light, and turned its great head toward us, ringed by a dark mane.  For a moment, it seemed that our eyes met.  I found the animal's shoulder and the rifle's report shattered the silence of the night.

It sounded like the devil itself, snarling, spitting, roaring, crashing through the bush. Then, just as suddenly, all was still.  We waited.  Nothing.  "I think it's dead," Leon said.  "I'm pretty certain I hit it well," I offered, half in truth and half in hope, since searching for a wounded lion in the dead of night is not conducive to a long and happy life.  After a rather tense half hour, we ventured from the blind—ever so cautiously—to have a look.

And there it was, dead, not fifty meters from the bait.  One shot, through the lungs.  It would measure nearly three meters from nose to tail, one of the largest lions taken in the area in many years.  The celebration went on well into the night and my long quest for an African lion was over.

For weeks afterward, I relived the event, playing it back in my mind like a digital movie.  Exciting?  No doubt.  Dangerous?  Without question.  Fortunately, everything had gone well.  I couldn't credit my great shooting, for even I have difficulty missing at forty meters.  The rifle?  It did its job, to be sure.  Hunting prowess?  Leon was very skilled and experienced, and he had placed us in excellent position to ambush the great east.

Then it became as clear as the image of that lion—it was the riflescope.  Without superb optics, I would never have had a shot.  Shooting a lion by the light of a flashlight is not standard procedure.  Without a scope that allowed me use every bit of that pathetically minimal light, it would have been impossible.  

This was a revelation.  Like many hunters, I had never given a scope that much thought.  I am a sucker for handsome firearms, and making small sacrifices (such as eating) or composing justifications to my better half that would put a trial lawyer to shame have always been well worth the effort to acquire an elegant new long gun.  A scope was an afterthought; a necessary evil that required yet more hard-earned funds.  

My encounter with the lion made me see the light, in more ways than one.  I had been doing things backwards all those years.  In reality, I should have devoted much more attention (and money) to my optics than I did to the gun itself.  After all, any decent rifle would have dispatched the lion.  On the other hand, if the scope hadn't allowed a shot, the finest rifle on the planet would have been worthless.

This gave me a newfound interest in hunting optics.  I began researching how riflescopes work, what separates a truly outstanding scope from one that is merely adequate, and delving into some of the advertising claims made by various scope companies.  What I discovered was, well, enlightening.  Rare is the hunter who cannot tell you about the ballistics, bullet performance, action and other pertinent features of his favorite rifle.  Ask him about the performance of his scope, though, and chances are you will be met with a blank stare.  Or at best, something nebulous about "light gathering" or “coatings” that he read in an article by an “expert” or saw in an advertisement.

That leads us to Truth Number One about riflescopes; there is no riflescope made that can "gather" light.  Scopes can only transmit available light.  Some do a better job of it than others.  The ability of a scope to transmit to your eye the maximum possible available light is what determines whether it will be a sterling performer in near darkness or whether it is best left to noontime use on a sunny day.

Truth Number Two is that it is physically impossible for a riflescope to transmit 100% of available light.  As light enters the objective end of the scope, before it reaches your eye it passes through several lenses.  Each lens absorbs a small quantity of light.  Residual reflection from the individual lenses will also prevent a certain amount of light from passing through the scope.  In addition, undesired reflections within the metal tube can hinder the quality of the viewed image and the transmission of light.

Good scope manufacturers devote every waking minute—and great sums of research money—to negating these basic physical limitations of glass and metal.  How they do it is fascinating.

It was about this time that my work was involving me in the optics industry, where I had the privilege of working with and learning from makers of some of the finest riflescopes in the world, including NIghtforce.

For example, I thought I knew what light was.  It’s what comes through my window in the morning and wakes me up.  Or it’s what is insufficient, in the case of hunting lions by flashlight.

Actually, light is simply radiation. This radiation, or rays, consists of waves of varying lengths.  The length is the distance between the beginning of the first wave and the beginning of the second wave. . .not unlike a wave on the ocean.  

The human eye can perceive light rays between roughly 400 and 800 nanometers in length (one nanometer [nm] = one-millionth of a millimeter).  The brain interprets the different wavelengths as colors.  For example, blue-violet is in the 400 nm range, extending through blue, green, yellow, orange and finally red at 800 nm. 

Oddly enough, the sum total of all the visible wavelengths, seen as daylight, is white.  When light strikes a colored object, the object itself filters out certain wavelengths, and we perceive that object in color by the wavelengths that remain.  This has profound implications for the hunter and the scope maker both.  The human retina has three different types of light-perceiving cells; one for blue-violet, one for green and one for purple.  Our blue-violet cells are the most sensitive.  Thus, at twilight, blue objects are seen as brighter than red objects.  Therefore, it is critical that the coatings used on a scope's lenses increase the transmission of all available blue light to give us the best chance of seeing what we're looking at.  A good scope will transmit blue light as a neutral image, giving our blue-violet cells every possible opportunity to discern what we are seeing.

To complicate matters, completely different types of cells in our eyes—called "rods"— are responsible for black and white vision ("cones" handle the color).  Rods are far more sensitive than cones.  So, when we're trying to discern an animal at dusk, or even after dark, we may not see it in color, but we can see it reasonably well in black and white.  That's why the transmission of blue light as a neutral image is so important.

This is why the coatings used on riflescope lenses (and the skill of the company applying them) is one of the most critical factors in determining the light transmission properties and low light performance of a scope.  Virtually every scope manufacturer touts “multi-coated lenses.”  That it itself means little, and is often advertising puffery.  The quality of manufacturer’s coatings varies widely, from cheap and ineffective to extraordinarily expensive, complex, and remarkably efficient.

Good modern coatings are known as "broadband" coatings because they transmit a broad range of the visible light spectrum (i.e., 350 to 780 nm) with a high degree of efficiency.  

The weighting and mixture of different nanometer values of visible light are calculated as "day value" and "twilight value" through a somewhat complicated formula achieved by measuring these values with a spectrophotometer.  In simple terms, it compares light of a certain nanometer value as it enters the objective lens of the scope at 100%, then measures the same light at the eyepiece after it has passed completely through the scope.  The comparison between the two reveals the percentage of different light values that the scope can transmit. 

Lens coatings are carefully guarded secrets, formulated by skilled physicists.  Top scope companies calculate the makeup of their coatings in direct relation to the physical composition of the glass to which it is applied, since different batches of glass will react in differing ways to the same coating.  Coatings can actually be tailored to favor certain nanometer (color) values, giving preference to certain wavelengths that are most beneficial to the hunter under actual field conditions.

Quality coatings also help minimize reflection from the lenses themselves, enhancing their light transmission ability.  Modern coatings that have been tailored to the glass used in a scope's lenses, then carefully evaporated in high vacuum, will ensure a residual reflection of less than 0.25% per glass/air surface.  Each lens has two surfaces.  Thus, the total number of lenses within a scope (a variable-power scope can have between seven and ten) is multiplied by two, then multiplied by 0.25% to determine the amount of light lost in the transmission.  Simple multiplication is not accurate, however, as each succeeding lens progressively reduces the total amount of transmitted light.  It is a favorite technique of some scope manufacturers to claim light transmission values of nearly 100%.  Of course, they're measuring the first objective lens only, conveniently forgetting about the other eight or nine!

How these coatings are applied is just as important.  The best scope manufacturers utilize a sophisticated evaporation process in a clean room environment, applying multiple layers of very thin film one layer at a time.  It's not as simple as dunking the lenses in a vat and being done with it.

Truth Number Three about scopes is that the very best riflescopes human beings can create will transmit to your eye—under perfect conditions—slightly over 90% of available light.  There are but a handful of scope makers that produce optics approaching these levels.

100% light transmission is physically impossible to achieve with current technology, and claims to the contrary are to be discounted.  But, what does light transmission mean in practical terms? A decent scope may transmit 80% or so, inferior scopes substantially less.  The human eye can distinguish transmission differences of 3% or more.  Consequently, there is a very real difference in what you can see through a superior scope versus run-of-the-mill optics.  

Under hunting conditions, when you might be trying to distinguish a target at absolute last light, these differences can be critical.  It can determine whether you bag your game or whether you have long since called it a day.

There are, of course, many other factors that determine the quality and capability of a riflescope; certainly the glass itself and its resolving capability, the precision with which lens elements are aligned, the quality and durability of the internal mechanisms, its resistance to recoil, even the reflective qualities of the finish inside the scope’s main tube, to name a few.

But, “light transmission,” “low-light performance,” “light gathering,” and other such terms have been bandied about for so long, they have become virtually meaningless to the consumer. There is not a riflescope manufacturer on earth that doesn’t reference one of these phrases in its advertising claims.  Backing up those claims, though, is another matter altogether. 

The raw materials, machinery, technology and human resources required to craft a top-quality riflescope do not come cheaply.  Building a mediocre scope is actually quite simple.  Building precision optics is something altogether different.  This is the reason for Truth Number Four about hunting scopes; you get what you pay for.  Top-of-the-line scopes are expensive to buy simply because they are expensive to make.  The number of riflescope manufacturers building optics of absolute top quality and performance today can be counted on the fingers of one hand.  And to tell the truth, you wouldn’t even need all your fingers. 

So, does all of this justify laying down a hefty sum for a premium scope?  It depends.  

If all of your hunting is done in bright daylight, you can get by with an average scope.  The truth is, in midday sunlight, you would be hard-pressed to tell the difference between the best riflescope money can buy and one you find on a bargain shelf.  

If, though, you’ve ever found yourself struggling to count the points on a huge buck at last light, trying to make out what is lurking in the shadows before sunrise, fighting glare from the setting sun, or lucky enough—maybe foolish enough—to take on several hundred pounds of African lion after dark on the other side of the world, your riflescope will determine whether you go home with the trophy of a lifetime or go home empty-handed. 

It might even determine whether you go home at all.


by Tom Bulloch


Tom is a 20+ year consultant to the riflescope industry and has the rare privelege of combining business with pleasure.  That's actually not a correct statement.  In his own words he "works to fuel his passion for hunting."

2015 Utah Mule Deer Hunt - by Robby Benedict

2015 Utah Mule Deer Hunt

 - by Robby Benedict - Nightforce Optics Senior Account Manager

 My 2015 Mule Deer hunt started on October 29th as I rolled into camp on the Ensign Ranch in Northern Utah.  I was joined by Garrett Wall from Gunwerks, who was set and ready to film an episode for a 2016 airing of Long Range Pursuit.  There, I was greeted by my guide Tanner Puegnet of Western Lands Outfitters, and Paul the Gunwerks cameraman. The Ensign Ranch is a privately owned ranch comprised of 200,000 acres that spans across Northeastern Utah as well as into Wyoming. Known for 200 + inch trophy mule deer, my expectations ran high wondering what the week of hunting would hold.  After getting settled into camp, our group headed down to the range to become familiar with the Carbon LR-1000 Gunwerks rifle chambered in 6.5x284 that we would be using for this hunt. The rifle, topped with an NXS 5.5-22x50 G7 riflescope, was a true example of the high quality reputation Gunwerks is known for.

Two quick practice shots at 600 yards and we were ready to start glassing. This was a great opportunity to test out the ED Glass equipped TS-80 spotting scope. The weather conditions were turning overcast, spitting snow and rain, but the spotter made easy work picking apart the dark canyons. After checking out several vantage points only to find up-and-comer bucks, we decided to switch gears and move to a an area where the guide had spotted a wide management buck in the weeks prior to my arrival. To our surprise, we were able to locate the buck less than 100 yards from the area he had been spotted in just recently. With darkness quickly closing in, we glassed the canyon for vantage points and formulated a game plan for the morning to come.

Day two started with a first class early breakfast. Before daylight, we were perched on a high vantage point hoping that the buck would be in the area. As light began stretching over the mountain tops, we were on the TS-80 and scanning the mountain faces for the previous day’s buck. The light transmission capability of the TS-80 was as good as anything I had ever tried before. Long before the naked eye could make out the surroundings, the superb ED Glass of the TS-80 was picking the canyon apart. After 30 minutes of glassing, Tanner announced to the group that he had spotted the buck and as luck would have it, less than 100 yards from where we put him to bed. A quick discussion of a game plan, and we were off, hurrying up a distant pass hoping to get into position before the buck followed his small group of does over the skyline.

As we crept over the top of the pass to get into position, Tanner relayed a yardage and dope correction from his G7 Br-2 Rangefinder. 873 yards was the distance to the buck. I dialed the correction into the ZeroStop elevation turret and settled in for the shot. The buck had other plans as he beaded down on the hillside. While his vitals were clearly exposed I quickly learned some of the frustrations when attempting to capture film to be aired on a television network. No bedded shots. So at that point it was a waiting game. The buck clearly wasn’t ready for a nap, keeping a close eye on his nearby does, thrashing his head back and forth and shifting positions in his bed. I pulled myself out of the shooting position, hoping to briefly rest my head and neck, when I heard Tanner tell me the buck was attempting to stand up. By the time my eye made it back into the scope I saw the buck had risen to his feet and was standing perfectly broadside. As I settled the G7 reticle on his vitals my long range training checklist began rolling through my mind.  Check the position of my body behind the rifle to ensure my body was as flat as possible, legs in line with the rifle, ankles down. From there I made sure my reticle was level, parallax adjusted properly and my magnification on max power. I reassured my elevation call and asked for the wind. With a steady, but light right to left wind, Tanner called out a 1 MOA hold. Finding 1 MOA in the reticle came easily, and I settled in for the shot. Once I was able to draw a bead, I slowly squeezed the trigger. As the round went off, the buck never budged as I watched the bullet impact just slightly high over the buck’s back. It was a clean miss. The buck was so focused on his does, that the shot never spooked him.  He quickly got on the trail of the does and followed them over the skyline. After the miss we made a move to try and get a spot on the buck. From a new vantage point we searched high and low for the group of deer. After 20 minutes or so we caught a glimpse of the buck making his way into a heavily wooded canyon.

With no clear stalk opportunities, we decided to head back to lodge for lunch to get a new plan for the afternoon. On the ride back to lodge, I kept replaying this miss in my head. What went wrong? I felt rock solid on the shot but obviously I left something out on my mental checklist. Just for reassurance we made a quick stop at the range. A painted piece of steel at 900 yards is where I chose to reboost my confidence. Two shots found me tracking high just missing the top of the plate. Then a light bulb went off. In the mix of setting up for an 873 yard shot on a giant 30” buck, I failed to load my bipod. Without that extra pressure into the stock to load up the bi pod, I was creating an inconsistency from how the rifle was designed to be used; in turn causing the report to print high.  

With my confidence now back we headed out to the same canyon where we last spotted the buck. It was early in the afternoon but we were confident that the buck would work his way down the pass to the creek before dark. With spotters and binos in action we picked the entire canyon apart in hopes of finding the buck bedded in the heavy timber. After a short while, several does and a decent management buck appeared. After giving the buck the pass we returned to search for our missing buck. Around 3:30 I heard Tanner say that he may have found him. Once the buck emerged into a small opening we knew we had located our buck. I quickly got into the shooting position in case a shot opportunity presented itself. The buck worked the timber over stopping to thrash his horns in various sage bushes along the way. Finally the buck was approaching an opening. The adrenaline began to build as I knew this may be our only chance if the buck decided to turn back up into the timber. Much like the morning’s hunt, Tanner was quick to read out an elevation call from his G7 rangefinder, 530 yards actual distance was the call. With the steep canyon the corrected distance came in at 490. With a quick dial on the ZeroStop turret, I was back into checklist mode in preparation for the shot. The winds began to pick up and another 1 MOA wind call was announced. As I neared the end of the checklist I made sure that loading the bi pod was in the mix. I settled the G7 reticle on the point of the buck’s shoulder and squeezed off the shot. With the cameras rolling we watched the 140 grain Berger bullet impact the buck.  Executing a first shot harvest at this distance was the culmination of a number of critical elements including; a proper stalk,  solid pre-shot routine, expert elevation and wind calls, and accurately delivering a 140g Berger through a Gunwerks LR-1000 precision rifle system. 

After all the high fives ended, a grueling 125 yard up-hill drag ensued to recover the deer and load the buck into the Ranger. On the way back to camp, we found one the prettiest peaks on the ranch and finished the picture taking. That evening at the skinning pole we were greeted by two other management tag hunters who also found success in two mature Utah Muleys. It was a quick turn back home to Georgia the following day but you can’t say enough good things about the 1st class operation that Travis Murphy and his Western Lands Outfitters team are running. From quality accommodations, delicious meals, to breathtaking views and giant Mule Deer bucks, this place is definitely everything and more that you hear amongst the chatter in the industry.  I am thankful to have had the opportunity to join the Gunwerks team to see first- hand the quality and expertise that goes into every product they sell.  A final big thank you goes out to Tanner Peugnet, our guide. His knowledge and expertise was much appreciated and certainly would recommend to anyone in search of giant mule deer bucks.  As an added bonus, look for this hunt to air on Long Range Pursuit, sometime in 2016.  


Robby Utah 1

Robby Utah 2

Robby Utah 3

Robby Utah 4


- Robby Benedict, Nightforce Senior Account Manager

NXS 2.5-10x24 - Limited Release - 2015

NXS 2.5-10x24 Limited Release

Nightforce NXSTM 2.5-10x24 Limited Release - 2015

The original member of the Nightforce NXS riflescope family is making a limited debut for 2015.

In order to meet customer requests for the discontinued NXS 2.5-10 x 24 compact riflescope, Nightforce is manufacturing a limited run this fall. The NXS 2.5-10 x 24 is unique in that it has a straight body tube to the objective lens, which provides for a very compact package (9.9 inches in length).

For many years, the Nightforce NXS 2.5-10x family —proven in the hands of the U.S. military—has been renowned for performance far beyond its size. The NXS 2.5-10 x 24 was an original contract riflescope on the U.S. military Mark 12 5.56mm Special Purpose Rifle (SPR) program.

This limited run will see the NXS 2.5-10 x 24 receive modern enhancements over the original production models. Included will be an integrated Nightforce PTL™ (Power Throw Lever), allowing instant magnification changes even while wearing gloves. The elevation and windage adjustments are of the most current design, providing extremely positive click feel and easy to read numbers. Adjustment configurations are in .250 MOA (20 MOA per revolution) or .1 Mil-Radian (5 Mil-Radian per revolution) increments, with an exposed ZeroStop™ elevation and a capped windage adjustment as standard. Reticle choices include the MOAR™ and Mil-R™.

As with all of the NXS 2.5-10x models, they prove that size is no substitute for quality, providing performance that exceeds most riflescopes of any size. In addition to being extremely popular on the various AR platforms, the low mounting profile, versatile magnification range and streamlined proportions also make it ideal for a mountain or safari rifle.

These limited run Nightforce NXS™ 2.5-10 x 24 models have an MSRP of $1,950. To acquire one of these limited availability riflescopes, please contact one of the four exclusive retailers below:

Mile High Shooting Accessories
Sport Optics


More Information

Download the Product Brochure

Download the Press Release

 NFO NXS 2.5-10x24 limited release

NFO NXS 2.5-10x24 2015 limited release Side

NFO NXS 2.5-10x24 2015 limited release Angle



The longest 286-yard shot ever

Below is an article from the "Guest Column" of our newsletter

The longest 286-yard shot ever  

Tom and Buck

 (The author with his fine Colorado mule deer, taken with his "long" shot of 286 yards.  The buck green-scored 185 B&C points.)

One of the great ironies of hunting is that it often seems the harder we try, the less success we have.  Glassing the broad, green farmland at first light had revealed only does and a few small bucks.  Ordinary mule deer were not what had brought me to western Colorado to hunt with Doyle Worbington of J&D Outfitters.  Doyle had peaked my interest with reports of mule deer pushing 200 points in this verdant river bottom, and he had the photos to prove it.
It was fitting, then, that we first spotted the big buck by sheer accident about 9:00 am, while drinking coffee over the hood of his pickup truck, wondering aloud what our Plan B might entail for the day.
Even at a distance of several hundred yards, there was no mistaking the size of this muley.  Big bodied, dark in color, walking with that swaying, bobbing gait characteristic of huge bucks, the mass of its antlers was visible to the naked eye.  A quick check through binoculars confirmed it.  “That is a nice buck,” Doyle said.  He looked again.  “That’s a real nice buck.”
The deer had lingered longer than usual that morning, perhaps feeling secure in the mist that hung over the farmlands at first light.  Now, the war sun had scoured the valley of fog, and the buck was moving rapidly to the safety of higher ground.  Its goal seemed to be one of the highest of the hillsides that surrounded the valley, a rocky, almost impenetrable tangle of scrub oak, juniper and cedar.  It was a classic survival technique, one that allows a smart young buck to grow into a massive old buck, the kind that makes the most jaded and experienced deer hunter weak in the knees.  From that vantage point, the buck could see for miles.  Nothing could approach it from below without being seen.  Nothing could approach it from above without being heard.  Its gray body vanished into the dry foliage, its antlers indistinguishable from the acres of twisted, gnarled branches.  It was the perfect camouflage, the perfect spot to while away a day in complete safety.
Doyle and I watched the buck until it disappeared, and marked the spot where we last saw it.  Would it stay there, or keep moving out of sight?  “He will probably bed down right there,” Doyle concluded.  Doyle had spent years observing the behavior of trophy animals, which helped make him one of Colorado’s most experienced and successful outfitters.  “All we can do is get as close as we can, try not to spook it, and make a plan.”
We drove to a spot on the edge of the river that watered this western valley, producing greenery and crops that made it a mecca for trophy quality mule deer.  We were close to the buck’s hiding spot, but it didn’t matter too much.  One thing in our favor was that resident deer were used to pickup trucks and farming activity; as long as we did not attempt to enter the buck’s hillside sanctuary, it should remain put.  Or so we hoped.
We set up shop in the shade of a cottonwood, “shop” being Doyle’s spotting scope, my rifle, and the remaining coffee in our Thermos.  “Assuming he is still there,” Doyle said as he adjusted the spotter’s tripod, “he is watching everything we do.  It shouldn’t bother him, though, since he is used to seeing activity down here.  We just have to find him.”
Trying to find an ear, an eye, the flick of a tail, the turn of a deer’s head in jumbled jungle of tall brush covering several acres is, to put it mildly, a challenge.  The sun rose and the day became hot while we strained our eyes and our optics to their max.  Any other deer, we would most likely have given the search up as futile.  But, as Doyle had said, this was no ordinary buck. 
Then, there it was.  Doyle and I just happened to be looking at the same area, the last spot we had seen the deer.  “Did you see that?”  I asked.  “Yeah, wait,” Doyle replied, “let me get the scope on it…yep, that’s him.”  The buck had turned its head ever so slightly, and the movement was just enough to give him away.
The deer was lying down, head up, completely in shade, not a care in the world.  He had a full belly from a long night feeding on farmer’s crops, and was obviously perfectly content in its hiding spot.
We, however, were not as content.  Doyle and I had intended to go “to town” after the morning’s hunt for lunch, so we had brought no sustenance other than coffee.  We couldn’t leave our riverside spot, for fear that the buck might move without our seeing it.  We were hot and we were hungry.  “You like fried chicken?” Doyle asked me.  “Sure,” I said.  At that moment I would have settled for a raw chicken.  “Let me call a friend,” Doyle said, retrieving his cell phone from the truck.
A half hour later, a cloud of dust announced an approaching pickup, and one of Doyle’s local associates greeted us with a huge bucket of chicken and several ice-cold sodas.  So there we sat, making short work of legs, breasts and wings, under the warm Colorado sun, in one of the more unusual hunts I’ve experienced.  The deer knew we were there, we knew the deer was there, thus what we had was a complete standoff.  Who would blink first?
“All I know to do,” Doyle said, “is to wait until the buck gets up and moves.  He will get up sometime.”
But the buck never did get up and move.  The hours ticked by, the sun continued its travel west, and the deer showed no inclination of moving. 
“That is a smart old buck,” Doyle observed.  “It appears he will not move from that spot until after dark.  There is nothing we can do except try to wait him out.”
We were rapidly running out of options.  All day long we had sat on that riverbank, and now there was at most an hour of daylight remaining.  To make matters worse, the sun was setting directly behind the hill we were watching, causing blinding glare.  We had to make a decision.
The only part of the buck that was plainly visible to me was its lower jaw and part of its chest.  It was facing us almost straight on.  There was at most a six-inch opening in the scrub that would afford any kind of shot.
“Doyle,” I said, “I don’t think we have a choice other than to take a shot.”  Doyle was not convinced.  “Do you think you can make it?” he asked skeptically.
I had one advantage in the standoff with the buck, that being my Nightforce NXS 2.5-10 x 32 Compact riflescope that I had ordered with a Velocity 600 reticle.  I am not a fan of complicated reticles for hunting, nor am I interested in making difficult calculations, consulting drop charts, making elevation adjustments or trying to recall what reticle markings mean when I have a trophy in the crosshairs. 
At the same time, I had become increasingly interested in longer-range accuracy, something more precise than a mere holdover estimation, and of course, no riflescope company enjoys a better or more deserved reputation for long-range precision than Nightforce.  The Velocity 600 reticle is actually tailored to the ballistic characteristics of the shooter’s rifle.  In this case, I mounted the 2.5-10 x 32 on my ancient .30-06, the first rifle I ever owned, well worn and showing the bruises of many hunts in many places, but still one of the most accurate rifles I have. 
The Velocity 600 has horizontal lines at the 0, 100, 200, 300, 400, 500 and 600 yard positions, with smaller hash marks at 50-yard intervals between each of those.  I had spent a lot of time practicing and confirming that the distance markings were right on.  If I want to make a 550-yard shot, for example, all I need to do is confirm the distance to the target, place the appropriate mark directly on the target, be cognizant of any potential wind drift, and pull the trigger.  Simple and virtually foolproof, two essential characteristics for this hunter.
According to our rangefinders, it was exactly 286 yards to the buck.  Now, I realize that this is laughably close in this day and age when accomplished 1000-yard shooters using Nightforce products can generate three- and four-inch groups all day long…and when 1500, even 2000 yards is starting to define “long” range.
Let’s review the situation, however.  I had a six-inch opening through which to place an ethical, fatal shot on our hillside deer.  I had to approach it with the same techniques that would be required if the distance were three times greater.  There was simply no room for error.
The sun was lowering quickly.  For over nine hours, we had watched that deer.  It was either make the shot, or call it quits, with a good probability of not seeing the big buck again.  It was now or never.
“Doyle, I think I can do this,” I said with more confidence than I really felt.  “I will either kill the deer with a neck shot, or miss it entirely.”  Over the course of my hunting career I have made my share of good shots, and yes, have made some bad shots.  Having a professional outfitter watching intently does not contribute to the former.
I adjusted the bipod affixed to my rifle (second only to a quality riflescope in being conducive to accurate shot placement, in my opinion), placed the crosshairs of the reticle equivalent to 275 yards on the bottom of the deer’s jaw, and took a deep breath.  The setting sun streamed directly into the objective lens; fortunately, NIghtforce lens coatings help reduce glare substantially.  I slowly, slowly squeezed the trigger.
“Whoooeeee, what a shot!”  Doyle jumped to his feet shouting, having seen what I didn’t because of the rifle’s recoil.   The big deer never stood up, never moved, never even twitched.  My bullet had struck exactly where I had intended, halfway down its neck, penetrating deep into the chest cavity.  The deer simply rolled over, dead instantly.
“That’s one of the best shots I’ve seen,” Doyle exclaimed, which, considering how many he has witnessed, made me one proud and happy hunter.  “Let’s go get him”
We made our way through the hillside jungle, clothes being ripped and torn, and finally found the buck.  It was a magnificent old muley that would score 185 B&C points, making every moment of a very long and often tense day very sweet indeed.
I have made longer shots, as measured in sheer distance.  I’ve never made a more satisfying shot, though.  Can 286 yards be considered “long range?”  It certainly can, when there is zero margin for error.  I don’t consider myself an accomplished rifleman.  I had two things going for me, though.  One was the wisdom to use the best possible riflescope; otherwise, there would have been no chance.  The second was the willingness to practice enough to learn how to use those optics properly before going afield.
Together, they gave me the confidence to make a difficult shot, and to make the right decision.  
And to go home with an exceptional trophy.

- Tom Bulloch

Nightforce NXS Compact
The Nightforce NXS 2.5-10 x 32's small size and light weight make it ideal for mountain hunting and negotiating thick brush.  The Velocity 600 reticle was the author's choice in this one, a system that removes all guesswork from holdovers at longer ranges.

River Valley 1

This lush valley in western Colorado attracts hundreds of mule deer eager for its greenery.  The deer feed at night, and retire by day to the safety of the virtually impenetrable sagebrush and scrub oak hills, shown in the foreground.

River Valley 2

The river valley is ringed with brush-covered hills, providing safety and cover for mule deer.  There are at least six deer visible in this photo, making their way to cover after a night of feeding in the valley below.
River Valley 3
The author spotted the big buck in the morning, moving from the valley in the foreground to the safety of the thick brush on the hillside.  Thus began a nine-hour standoff.